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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Women's Soccer | Two wins would propel Jumbos to the NCAA Final Four

You only live twice.

After falling to Bates 2-1 in double overtime in the NESCAC Championship two weeks ago, the women's soccer team was given a second shot at life by the NCAA, as the Jumbos were granted the No. 1 seed in the New England Region.

Tufts held seed last weekend, shutting out Johnson and Wales 3-0 before blanking Bates 1-0 to gain revenge and advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. But the Jumbos are out of lifelines, and from here on out, it's win or go home.

The squad faces off on Saturday with Wheaton for a chance to call themselves New England Regional Champions. Tufts and Wheaton faced off on Sept. 14 at Kraft Field, with Tufts sneaking by then-national No. 3 Wheaton, 3-2.

Wheaton skidded into Medford on a two game losing streak, having fallen to the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis, 4-1 and 3-1, respectively. The Lyons came onto Kraft Field and were edged by the Jumbos on a 70th minute, game-winning free kick by sophomore defender Joelle Emery. Even though things are very different now, the Jumbos still recognize that game's significance.

"It was the beginning of the season, we were missing three injured starters and had only three subs," senior tri-captain Sarah Callaghan said. "It will be a completely different game, but we're going to have to come out fired up because they will be gunning for us after having lost to us once."

Since the loss to Tufts, Wheaton has gone 16-1-2, including an 8-0-1 mark in conference. The Lyons currently sit 20th in the nation and rolled through their conference schedule and postseason tournament.

"With unbeaten streaks, as we know, you get used to winning, assume you'll win, and don't always play as hard as you should," Emery said. "We've lost recently so we know what it's like, and really don't want to do it again. [Wheaton's] streak is waiting to be broken."

Wheaton boasts a prolific group of sophomore attackers that has combined for 47 goals and 32 assists this season. The quartet is led by forward Lauren Konopka, who tallied 44 points on 17 goals and 10 assists on the year. Classmates Jenna Rabesa (9G, 11A, 29P), Julie McLane (11, 6, 28), and Ashley Furr (10, 6, 26) round out Wheaton's top four point leaders, with freshman Angelamaria Viscomi leading the team in assists with 12.

While those stats are impressive, they must be taken with a grain of salt because Wheaton plays in the NEWMAC, which is nowhere near as competitive a conference as the NESCAC.

The Jumbos haven't exactly been slouching since their first matchup with the Lyons, either. The victory over Wheaton was the starting point of a 10-game winning streak for Tufts, during which it defeated New England powerhouses Middlebury, Amherst, Bowdoin and Bates and broke a 27-year old school record.

Tufts was a mainstay in the national rankings all season, peaking at No. 6 in late October and currently sitting at No. 13. Furthermore, the Jumbos have occupied the number one spot in New England for virtually the entire season, and currently reside there heading into this weekend's action.

The 2005 Jumbos' 14 wins are the second most in school history, only behind the 2000 Jumbos that made it all the way to the National Title game. The last time Wheaton and Tufts faced each other in the NCAA Tournament was in this same situation during that 2000 season, when Tufts won 3-1 to take the New England crown.

Though both teams are coming into the bout with loads of momentum, the Jumbos understand that it is the little things that will determine who advances to the Elite Eight.

"When we do as well as we can, we are confident we can play with anyone," Callaghan said. "At this point, every team is going to be very good, and it's going to come down to which team wants it more."

"We need to come out hard right from the start and never let up and work together as a team possessing the ball and controlling the game," freshman Maya Shoham added.

Defensively, the Jumbo back four has been brilliant all season and will face one of its toughest tests tomorrow. After shutting out the high octane Bates Bobcats last weekend, however, Tufts' defense is brimming with confidence and has its strategy in place for the Lyons.

"Going into the Bates game we were really focusing on stepping up quickly and putting a lot of pressure on their forwards so they didn't have time to turn with the ball and distribute," Emery said. "That's exactly what we want to do with Wheaton. We know if we step up and continue to work hard it will frustrate them and shut them down."

With the win over Bates last weekend, the Jumbos advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in school history. Furthermore, the Jumbos eclipsed their performance of the 2002 season, when Callaghan and classmates Lydia Claudio, Ariel Samuelson and Lindsay Garmirian were freshmen on the team.

"You always want to do better than you did in the years before," Callaghan said. "But for the seniors, this is it. Whatever we accomplish this year will be the best we've ever done."

Putting the game aside, the Jumbos have not forgotten to bask in the glory of this experience, hosting NCAA's on Kraft Field and traveling to New York to represent their university.

"I think that we're actually letting ourselves be very excited because it's a big deal, and we're enjoying it while it lasts," Callaghan said. "But we know that once the game starts on Saturday, it's just another game, just like we've been playing all season."

Game time is slated for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the victor facing the winner of the matchup between No. 14 Rochester and No. 21 Oneonta State for a chance to go to the Div. III Final Four.